“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Most people choose and act from the motive of self-interest. The highest loyalty for unredeemed man is to self. In biblical love the ultimate, controlling love, the integrating factor of life, the pivotal relationship, is love for God. How can I tell if I love God supremely?
It is futile to try to decide whether we have as warm an affection for God as we do for a parent or child, a wife or husband, but there is a way to tell which love is paramount. The controlling love becomes quite evident when a confrontation comes. When the best interest of another or ourselves and the best interest of God come into conflict, love must make a choice.
Ordinary human love gives for another to a point. But when the cost of acting lovingly gets too high, loving behavior ends. God’s kind of love is different. How can I tell if I truly love my neighbor as Christ would have me love? Ask the key question: Does my love for self-limit the expression of my love for the other person, or does my love for the other limit the expression of my love for myself? Love is measured, not by the intensity of its feeling, but by the sacrifice it stands ready to make.
Jesus indicated this when he said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Often love is present without sacrifice, but so long as there is a return benefit, there is no proof that the love is truly other love rather than self-love. No matter what our emotional response, if we choose to sacrifice what we perceive to be our own interests for the welfare of another, we have loved as God loved. Sacrifice. That is God’s way of loving. And the world finds it beyond comprehension.
Natural man does not ordinarily want to get involved for someone else’s benefit. Above all, he does not want to suffer loss for someone else. When Kitty Genovese was brutally stabbed to death in front of her apartment in New York in March 1964, thirty-eight people watched from behind darkened windows. No one did anything to help her, though she cried for help for thirty minutes. Why? The police investigator said, “The word we kept hearing from the witnesses later was involved. People told us they just did not want to get involved. They do not want to be questioned or have to go to court.” Her case was celebrated because of nationwide coverage, but the story is repeated daily. No one wants to be involved. But godlike love is precisely the opposite: It chooses to get involved, no matter what the cost. yet the sacrifices we shrink from are not usually life-threatening: the sacrifice of a parent to allow the child to be childish when he is young and to let him grow free when he is older, the sacrifice by a spouse of their right to be right—all the small irritations of the daily routine. For the conflict of interests to be resolved, someone must be sacrificed. Who will it be? Will I take up my cross or nail him to his? It depends on whom I love the more.
Shirai was a young Japanese wife whose husband was the traditional lord of the house. When she came to faith in Christ, he was furious. If she ever went to that Christian meeting again, he warned, she would be locked out. Sunday night Shirai came home to a darkened, locked home. She slept on the doorstep till morning, and when her husband opened the door, she smiled sweetly and hurried to prepare the best possible breakfast of bean soup, rice, and raw fish. Every Sunday and every Wednesday the story was the same. Winter came, and with it the rain and cold. Shirai huddled in the darkness as her wet cotton-padded jacket froze about her. Week after week for six months she forgave, freely and fully. No recriminations, no sulking. It was costly—she bore his sin. But her poor husband finally could stand it no longer. Love finally won out. When I met him, he was a pillar in the church, learning to walk the thorny path of sacrificial love. Shirai’s example shatters my own complacency with a sharp, clear picture of what it means to deny oneself, take up one’s cross daily, and follow Jesus.
Perhaps one of the most painful sacrifices that love makes is forgiveness. To forgive is costly, for someone must pay the price of wrong. If I choose to treat the person as if the wrong had never been done (forgive), then I may have to pay for it. It is not just the sacrifice of ego — that seems to be painful enough. But if I forgive — truly forgive — the smashed fender, then I pay for it. And I do not make the guilty party pay for it in installments through petty insinuations. Even when the relationship is such that discipline is necessary, as with a parent and child, forgiveness means full restoration without the haunting specter of subtle reminders.
Must I forgive if the other person does not repent, does not ask forgiveness? Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). So we must forgive the one who indicates their sin against us. That is when God forgives. But Christ and Stephen both prayed that God would not hold accountable those who sinned against them, even though the murderers had not asked forgiveness. So it is all right to forgive anyway. And since we are not godlike in our knowledge of the other person’s thoughts, it may be the best thing to forgive anyway. Usually the other person does not view the circumstances from my perspective and does not sense a need to repent or ask forgiveness. In any event, an attempt at reconciliation is always my responsibility, no matter who the chief wrongdoer was. Besides, unforgiveness is a cancer that eats away at the spirit of the one who fails to forgive, so there is great therapeutic value in forgiveness as a way of life, no matter how the offenders in one’s life behave.
How is your love life today? Will it be love for yourself or love for the other? Will it be forgiveness? How costly will it be? Are you willing to pay the price?
 Introduction to Biblical Ethics (IBE), Robertson McQuilkin, (2014), 23.